Nelson Abreu is a Power Systems Engineer based in Florida, USA. Nelson was an intern at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory, is a contributing author on “Filters and Reflections: Perspectives on Reality” from International Consciousness Research Laboratories, and is a volunteer lecturer and researcher with the International Academy of Consciousness. Nelson’s research speciality is Out of Body Experiences.
1. Nelson, let’s start with you. I understand you were an intern at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) Laboratory. What can you tell us about your time there?
I was fortunate enough to have Brenda Dunne and Robert Jahn as mentors. They were very supportive of my student club at the University of Florida, where they lectured on a couple of occasions. I got to experience the PEAR Laboratory — the random mechanical cascade, the water fountain, the robot, the pendulum, and other stochastic devices that were similarly affected by the users intention, despite their divergent properties — before it closed its doors after 3 decades of ground-breaking research on anomalous consciousness-machine interactions and remote perception. Bob and Brenda are so well read, articulate, and possess a rare balance of objectivity and desire to understand and explore the subjective.
The statistical anomalies that draw your attention at first were already great achievements of science. However, what makes these researchers so exceptional is that they are really trying to understand consciousness itself not just the phenomena. And they have been brave enough to go beyond the conventional paradigm in such an institution as Princeton, but also beyond the essentially materialistic epistemology that defines much of parapsychology. They have now moved the work to a new phase as International Consciousness Research Laboratories and have just finished a sequel to Margins of Reality. I was also honoured to contribute to a recent ICRL anthology entitled Filters and Reflections: Perspectives on Reality, where I was able to weave my research on out-of-body experience and with PEAR’s.
2. These days your research interests centre upon Out of Body Experiences. Clearly, a scientific research program into such a phenomenon can prove challenging. What are the current approaches, protocols and difficulties that researchers face?
Few would question whether we dream. When it comes to OBEs, it isn’t so, since very few people have the experience with some frequency. One of the ways we address this is by training individuals to have experiences more often, rather than “waiting” for spontaneous ones. Until 16 years of age, I do not recall having a single ‘projection’ of consciousness or an OBE. Through training, I began having more and more experiences.
Now, suppose that we have a group of highly talented projectors. What does the researcher do? He or she can ask them about their experiences - and IAC’s survey (by Wagner Alegretti and Nanci Trivellato) is one of the most extensive ever. The researcher could ask them to observe a remote target as has been done in two IAC experiment programs, and ASPR’s classic “fly in” experiment. However, unless the researcher has his/her own repeated, fully-lucid, fully-recalled, validated experiences, one could always find a way to dismiss the information. And even if one is very open-minded, how will the researcher truly understand the phenomenon without experiencing it?
Once again, we return to “the science of the subjective” which basically postulates that unless people experience the phenomenon for themselves – they don’t really understand OBEs. Some years ago, there were studies claiming to reproduce OBEs in the lab, when in fact there were just people having some optical illusions. Then, someone “discovered” that sleep paralysis was associated with OBEs — something known for a long time and demonstrated by surveys like IAC’s. The media fell into the sophistry of confusing correlation with causality, saying that the paralysis caused the OBE and hence it was probably imagination.
The OBE can be triggered by a physical cause: such as electromagnetic stimulation of certain parts of the brain as was demonstrated by studies by Olaf Blanke, for instance. However, this does not mean the resulting experience is necessarily imaginary – scientists such as Blanke admit this. Similarly, vision and hearing illusions can be triggered by external stimulus, but this does not make sight or hearing itself imaginary. Besides, OBEs can also happen spontaneously or be triggered simply by will or intention paired with subtle energy techniques under normal circumstances – sleep paralysis can occur related to the phenomenon, but not always.
So, it is not proven that OBEs are imaginary experiences caused by physiological processes. On the contrary, studies have shown that individuals can make verifiable, objective observations during NDE’s or regular OBE’s – even when they are blind from birth (I recommend the book Mindsight by Dr. Kenneth Ring).
I’m a living example that an OBE is not an hallucination, because I developed it through training and it doesn’t happen every time I try or under strange situations like lack of oxygen, etc. It happens in a very natural way. Hallucination is a specific type of altered state that has identifiable triggers, such as certain drugs, high fever, lack of oxygen, extreme deprivation of sleep, food, or water and so on. Besides, I have been able to confirm details of my experiences were objectively real. For instance, once I was able to observe an event going on at a hotel where I was staying at. While projected, I observed logos in the walls of a specific meeting room. Later, the lobby staff confirmed there had been a logo expo in a room that matched the location I had described in my account.
3. And what do the results indicate?
The available body of research already shows that it is myopic to simply dismiss the OBE as an objective phenomenon. Surveys in Italy, South Africa, UK, Australia, Iceland, USA, and internationally show that at least 10% of individuals have the experience at least once in their life time - across demographics, religions, cultures, ethnicities… The bibliography on OBEs includes about 2000 works from 28 countries in 18 languages. Anthropologists recognize that more than 90% of cultures have references to extracorporeal phenomena and it is discussed in philosophical schools like Anthroposophy, Kabbalah, Esoterism, Spiritism, Hagiology, Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, Shamanism, Umbanda, and Theosophy.
We can also look at excellent collection of accounts by Bozzano and Crookall that, in many cases, reveal a phenomenological complexity and level of lucidity that is only comparable to physical reality. In other words, the OBE - when it is sufficiently conscious has a sort of self-evidence. I.e., the same way that we know that we are fully awake and this moment is real and coherent, we can have the same sense in those OBE’s.
More studies are helpful. However, we can already characterize the phenomenology of OBEs and other phenomena. For instance, our survey indicates that:
- 1,007 (85%) of the first 1,185 respondents reported having had an OBE.
- 37% claimed to have had between two and ten OBEs.
- 5.5% claimed more than 100 such experiences.
- 45% of those who reported an OBE said they successfully induced at least one OBE by using a specific technique.
- 62% of participants claiming to have had an OBE also reported having enjoyed nonphysical flight; 40% reported experiencing the phenomenon of self-bilocation (i.e. seeing one’s own physical body whilst outside the body); and
- 38% claimed having experienced self-permeability (passing through physical objects such as walls).
The most commonly reported sensations experienced in connection with the OBE were falling, floating, repercussions e.g. myoclonia (the jerking of limbs, jerking awake), sinking, torpidity (numbness), intracranial sounds, tingling, clairvoyance, oscillation and serenity.
In our remote perception studies, just as with PEAR’s, it is clear that people can indeed make accurate observations of remote targets. They may have some distortions at times, due to “noise” in the perception, less than perfect lucidity during the experience, and “noise” or distortion in the recall process (or download into the physical brain, if you will). However, the degree of accurate information is not easily accounted for by chance.
We have also learned about factors that can facilitate projections. This is embodied in the first laboratory specifically constructed to facilitate the induction of OBE’s: the Projectarium. Located at IAC’s Research Campus in the Alentejo region of Portugal, it is a large spherical space with a walk-way that allows you to lay down with your head at the center. Individuals who have never had OBEs have experienced their first partial or full OBEs there, and those with more experience feel that the process is intensified and accelerated.
4. Where do you think the scientific research should head in the future? Advances in technology must offer some interesting opportunities…?
I think a ‘consensus approach’ is the key to the future of research, so we can take science where our instrumentation does not reach — at least for now — the “extraphysical” levels of existence, closer to consciousness itself, well beyond the physical universe as we know it.
Currently, some are studying only the brain and hope that the solution to consciousness will emerge by solving the individual mysteries of its working. Others, like the IAC study primarily investigate what happens beyond the physical brain and dimensions. The future points to the dialogue of these approaches: how does an extraphysical consciousness establish two-way communication with the brain? At the same time, the question remains: if we are indeed multidimensional in nature, how does consciousness (that apparently transcends normal conceptions of space, time, and information) as hinted by cosmic consciousness type experiences and other advanced OBE’s, how does it communicate with its vehicles. Sure, an easy answer is “energy.” But we do not have a “mathematical” or more precise understanding of this.
As far as technology, one fascinating study underway is that of IAC president, Wagner Alegretti, who is researching what happens to the brain during the so-called vibrational state (V.S.). The V.S. is characterized by the electric-like or mechanical sensation of vibration or resonance of the entire body, even though the body itself is still and in deep relaxation. It normally happens spontaneously before OBE’s, but can also be generated by will. It can be used to trigger a partial disconnection or even the full OBE. Functional MRI scans of the brain after the V.S. have stumped the neuroscientists who are collaborating on the study, as they do not understand why scans of brain activity “light up” after the V.S. is installed during the posterior rest period. Also, areas around the brain that are not expected to show activity (as it is air without blood flow) do seem to light up as well.
The main advances in research, as I see it, will come as more and more researchers learn to project. This way, scientists can make first-hand observations of the multidimensional nature of consciousness, individuality and at times even in groups. For example, super psi theory states that psychical phenomena like poltergeist are really triggered by physical people. Ghosts, as such, do not exist.
The OBE can be the tool to show the universe and consciousness are not merely physical. The difficulty is that the proof cannot be easily seen. It must be experienced. The proof is in the pudding.